Contact: Larra Clark, Press Officer
Mark Gould, PIO Director
For Immediate Release
May 2, 2003
(Chicago) After lengthy discussions and consultation with international and national health officials about the occurrence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the American Library Association (ALA) Executive Board voted unanimously to keep the 2003 Annual Conference in Toronto, June 19-25.
"This decision has been reached following the assurance of leading health officials who inform us that it is safe for our members, exhibitors and guests to visit Toronto," said ALA President Maurice J. (Mitch) Freedman. "We take the occurrence of SARS in Toronto very seriously and have carefully considered all options and opinions before choosing to stay."
The Executive Board decision followed an announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO) that it was lifting the travel advisory for Toronto. WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland cited three changes in Toronto over the last week: the magnitude of probable SARS cases has decreased; 20 days have passed since the last case of community transmission occurred; and no new cases in other parts of the world have been linked to Toronto. The full advisory can be found at <http://www.who.int/csr/sarsarchive/2003_04_29/en/>
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not advised against travel to Toronto. Its April 22 interim travel alert encouraged travelers to observe precautions like frequent hand-washing and avoiding health care settings (<http://www.cdc.gov/travel/other/sars_can.htm>). The CDC reports that all cases in Toronto have been linked to an original index case, and spread has been through close person-to-person contact. SARS transmission in Toronto has been limited to a small number of hospitals, households, and specific community settings, according to the CDC.
"We are urging all travelers to use common sense measures to protect themselves from any infectious disease, and first among those measures is, of course, hand hygiene or careful washing of soap and water," said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding at a news conference last week. Gerberding has urged continued vigilance in the United States, where there have been 220 suspected cases of SARS, and in Canada.
The ALA Annual Conference is the world’s largest and most comprehensive library conference and exhibition. Drawing more than 25,000 librarians, educators, writers, publishers and special guests, the conference includes more than 2,000 meetings, discussion groups and programs on topics affecting libraries. This year marks the first joint conference with the Canadian Library Association (CLA) in more than 30 years.
"This is a decision based on information - authoritative medical opinion - and rationality - two of the values of the library profession," said CLA President Wendy Newman. "This is a proud moment for the North American library community."
Registration for the 2003 Annual Conference is up substantially compared to last year. As of April 30, registrations stands at 9,287, compared to 6,783 last year. Registrations continued to come in while the earlier WHO travel advisory was in effect.
"I would like to reassure you that the risk of SARS in the general population is extremely low, and extensive control measures are in place to prevent any further spread of the illness," said Dr. Sheela V. Basrur, Toronto Medical Officer of Health.
"We appreciate the fact that Toronto representatives shared our primary focus on the health and safety of visitors to Toronto and that they answered our questions and addressed our concerns openly and frankly," said ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels. "This has been a difficult set of circumstances for everyone, and we are grateful for the patience and support of our members, exhibitors and the Canadian Library Association."
"The Executive Board has strived for the most comprehensive discussion, and we’re pleased with the process," Freedman said. "There continues to be a lot of enthusiasm for this joint conference, and I am looking forward to meeting with our Canadian colleagues in Toronto."
The ALA also has extended its advance registration and cancellation deadlines. ALA members and guests can register at the advance rate through June 13, and cancellations will be accepted until May 19. Requests for refunds must be submitted in writing and received by May 19, and refunds will be processed after June 28. For complete information, please visit the "Events and Conferences" section of the ALA Web site, then click 2003 Annual Conference and "registration."
Please visit the ALA Web page for frequent updates on 2003 Annual Conference programming and special events, or call the ALA Conference information line at 1-800-545-2433; then press 4 at the prompt. A list of frequently asked questions also is available online.